Friday, January 30, 2009

A Dungeon By Any Other Name

There's a tendency to describe any enclosed and dangerous space visited by heroes as a "dungeon". After all, the game's called Dungeons & Dragons. Literally, though, a dungeon is really only something found beneath a fortification or palace, used for the the primary or ancillary purpose of detaining prisoners.

Keep on the Shadowfell promises a ruined keep as its main location. As players set out from Winterhaven for their first journey to this key structure, they may be looking forward to standing at ancient battlements, crossing haunted courtyards, peering through weathered murder holes, and nervously exploring crumbling feast-halls.

Upon arriving, they find that the keep's been reduced almost totally to rubble, there is clearly nothing of interest at surface level, and in the middle of the ruins is a recently-used and well-maintained stairway leading down to the crypts. There may as well be a large arrow pointing downwards, helpfully labelled "Dungeon!".

Keep on the Shadowfell has already laid down its credentials as an unapologetically old-school dungeon crawler, so in a way it's refreshing that it gets right down to business like this. It's still a little jarring though. The internet reveals my players weren't alone in finding it hard to believe that the entire setup of the "keep" was just window-dressing on a series of crypts.

Probably a more accurate name would have been "Crypt On The Shadowfell".

3 comments:

Talsidor said...

It's safe to say that for a DM an indoor scenario is more managable. It's easier to describe, easier to plan combat and traps, and easier to justify line of sight, stealth and ambushes. Of course that's no excuse, but the materials - both written and drawn - Wizards provides always favour the subterranean, which certainly doesn't help.

Greg Tannahill said...

Under 4th Edition you no longer need to worry about line of sigh, stealth and ambushes. Stealth is no longer something that has anything to do with combat, there are clear rules on line of sight and it's only relevant during combat, and an ambush happens when the GM says it does (possibly taking into account people's passive perception).

But I've seen, and played in, perfectly decent dungeon crawls set inside partially-ruined keeps. I'm not so much worried that there's an enclosed environment full of 10x10 corridors, it's just that it's not the one advertised on the front of the module.

Scott W said...

Oh, dear. There is an actual ruined keep in the background on the module cover, isn't there?

Captcha: "firre", a variety of noble eladrin.